Padraig Harrington insists he’s back with a bang as a major contender and ready to join the immortals with three Claret Jugs to their name.
Third favourite with the bookies to deny Tiger Woods a 15th major win at Royal Lytham, Harrington warned: “The bookies don’t get it wrong too often. That’s all I’ll say.
“You don’t see too many poor bookmakers. They are smart lads and you like to be up there in the betting because they know their job.
“Is Padraig Harrington back as a major contender? I suppose so, yes. To be honest, I didn’t think he ever went away.”
Harrington captured the last of his three majors in the US PGA in Detroit in 2008 but after finishing eighth in the Masters and fourth in last month’s US Open, he reckons he’s back to his best.
All he needs is a win to prove it and while Woods the favourite ahead of Lee Westwood to claim the title here on Sunday, Harrington is the next best bet at 18-1 and feeling very good about his chances.
Trying his best to play down the hype and keep his excitement in check, Harrington said: “I am playing nice and steady, there is no doubt about it.
“I am in good form and trying to carry that into this week. I am just trying not to get in my own way and that’s the key coming into a major.
“Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are big days at a major and you can get them horribly wrong. So the key is to continue to fight with yourself to make sure you don’t overdo things.”
With just one win worldwide in the last four years - a minor Asian Tour event in 2010 - Harrington is waiting patiently for everything to click into place.
A third Open victory would see him match greats like Woods, Seve Ballesteros, Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Bobby Jones.
But he knows that he will need his putting to be at its very best if he is to hoist the Claret Jug aloft again.
He was so worried about his form on the greens that he consulted Bernhard Langer at the Masters about ways to tackle a problem he described as “close to the heebie-jeebies on the greens.”
Relieved to discover that it wasn’t his nerves but his technique, he knows that Harri Putter is ready to make a comeback.
Explaining his anguish, he said: “By trying to improve my ability to hole 15 footers, I ended up with a 15-foot putting stroke for a four-foot putt.
“It was just the classic case of decelerating on the putts and I had no idea that’s what I was doing
“Realising that has helped me a lot, because when you miss a few short putts, you start losing confidence and you’re wondering if the nerves have gone.
“So it’s nice to find it was more physical than mental, let’s say. And that’s helped me putt better.”
Losing confidence also made him doubt his ability to read greens but he’s also solved that problem with the help of a SPIRIT LEVEL
In order to convince himself that his eyes weren’t telling him lies, he stopped off at Royal Lytham on the way to the Scottish Open last week and used the spirit level to check that his eyes weren’t deceiving him
He said: “I just calibrating my eyesight more than anything else - using the spirit level to confirm that the slope I was seeing was actually there. I was calibrating my eyes.”
Harrington made his major debut at Royal Lytham in 1996 and played it again in 2001.
But he believes he’s a different man now and insists that while the course is tough off the tee, the winner will be decided on and around the greens.
He said: “If you hit 56 fairways out of 56 this week, you’re going to be doing very nicely. But the biggest challenge at any major and the biggest challenge for myself would be managing my game mentally and obviously putting well.
“I think those are the two big things you want to do every major tournament. It generally comes down to those things at the end of the week.
“Yes it’s tights off the tee with the bunkers and some heavy rough would suggest that you would like to drive the ball very well. But I think everybody in the field would want to do that.”
The Dubliner loves to hear players moaning about the tough conditions but he’s not looking for four days of mayhem.
He said: “If you have 72 holes of rain, it’s nearly last man standing at that stage, and that’s really difficult for everybody.
“I would like to see certainly 18 holes, if not 36 holes of difficult conditions because that will cut enough of the field out.”
Keeping his fingers crossed that his barren spell is over, Harrington knows he’ll need some luck on the greens
He added: “It’s a strange game, golf. You can play better than ever and not win.
“But it’s nice to see the putting has returned and the rest of the game is pretty solid on top of that. So hopefully it will be good enough this week to get me across the line.”